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Clallam PUD may Opt in for Wind Farm Study

by Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News, June 2, 2010

PORT ANGELES -- Could the possible death of 1-1/2 marbled murrelets annually help doom a nascent $100 million Pacific County wind farm?

Clallam County Public Utility District commissioners say construction of the Radar Ridge wind turbine project on a logged-off ridge top near Naselle would provide renewable energy to the North Olympic Peninsula and satisfy the imperatives of 2006 voter-approved energy Initiative 937.

But the project has been delayed by permitting and environmental concerns over the northern goshawk and the threatened marbeled murrelet, as well as lease deadline issues, and pre-construction costs have ballooned from an estimated $3.2 million to $5 million.

The increasing cost -- including a marbled murrelet study -- has led the Clallam PUD and others to be hesitant to spend more money.

The three-person Clallam PUD board is expected to approve $38,000 more for the project at its meeting at 1:30 p.m. Monday at PUD offices at 2431 E. Highway 101, board President Hugh Haffner and board members Ted Simpson and Will Purser said Wednesday in separate interviews.

The funding would help Energy Northwest pay for additional studies, including a Merlin Avian Radar analysis to determine flyways for the murrelet, a threatened species that environmentalists fear would be killed flying into the 32 turbine-studded towers of the wind farm.

Energy Northwest's three-year study estimated up to 1-1/2 murrelets would be killed annually, Clallam PUD General Manger Doug Nass said Wednesday.

The funding also would also help pay for collision risk model, an already-in-progress study of impacts on the northern goshawk and lease extension negotiations with the state Department of Natural Resources.

The PUD, which has committed $250,000 so far to the effort, is a partner in the project with PUDs from Grays Harbor, Mason and Pacific counties.

Energy Northwest, a consortium of 28 Washington state utilities with a 2010 budget of $910 million, would build it.

The $38,000 for additional studies may be the last money that Clallam PUD puts into the project, said Haffner, Simpson and Purser.

They added they may try to sell their interest if the wind farm's prospects don't improve in coming months.

"What I am concerned about is whether we end up dumping a whole bunch of money but won't know if we get anywhere to get a final permit to do the project," Haffner said.

"Perhaps $38,000 will help buy a viable project that someone else can take over," Purser said, citing strong "underlying opposition" to the wind farm.

Said Simpson: "What we are doing is moving the project ahead to a point to whether it's either dead or more salable."

Clallam PUD commissioners discussed funding the studies at their Tuesday meeting, deciding to wait for word from Grays Harbor PUD before determining whether to proceed with funding.

Grays Harbor PUD, which met later Tuesday, holds a 49 percent interest in the wind farm compared with Clallam PUD's 15 percent, Mason PUD's 15 percent and Pacific PUD's 21 percent.

The Grays Harbor utility commissioners decided to pay its share in additional funding -- $125,000 -- but after that will cut off the spigot, they decided in a 2-1 vote.

The new funding brings Grays Harbor's total for the project to $970,000.

"The board made it clear that this basically was kind of it," Grays Harbor PUD General Manager Rick Lovely said Wednesday in an interview.

"The idea of our agreement on this was to give them time to do those things that are necessary to move this project forward but also to find someone to take our place."

Clallam PUD Commissioners Purser and Simpson suggested Clallam PUD may follow Grays Harbor's lead in eventually bowing out of the project.

"This is damn frustrating," Purser said. "We are under a mandate to have a portfolio of renewable resources. This is a replay of tidal energy at Neah Bay. Obstacles are put in the way."

If Clallam PUD commissioners on Monday do approve the funding, "it gives us the option to go ahead with the project or opt out of it and sell our share," Nass added. "It keeps us a little flexible."

Paul Gottlieb
Clallam PUD may Opt in for Wind Farm Study
Peninsula Daily News, June 2, 2010

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